I have written mini biographies of 120 people for the Castaway Series in Oxfordshire Limited Edition magazine. Those features have been turned into 3 books in support of charities. At the Stratford Literary Festival last year I was asked to talk about the importance of life story telling for people with Alzheimer’s. The reason? Oxford Castaways 3 was published on behalf of Vale House the first hospice for people with terminal Alzheimer’s. Life storytelling has a special meaning for people whose memories are fading but I believe life storytelling is important for all of us.
Why ? We are each of us unique! When I interviewed forty people for I Love you All the story of my village choir, I was guilty of a pre-conception. I thought the stories would be a bit ‘samie’ after the inspirational people I had interviewed for The Oxford Times . How wrong I was! Everyone’s story is different and worth telling .
The castaway series was inspired by BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs. Music can evoke memories. I have always loved the visual arts so my castaways are allowed to take art, objects and books. When I give talks on life writing I take with me some curiosities that people hold and like a time machine they take them back to a different time. Objects from your past can tap in to the unconscious and using them can give texture to your story telling.
The same applies to photographs . Use whatever transports you to a particular time and place and start by writing up a story inspired by that piece of music, that photograph, that object or even by a particular meal – whatever works for you.
Start anywhere. You don’t have to begin at the beginning and go through to now. You can start with a life changing experience or an encounter that changed your life.
Don’t be hung up by the quality of your writing. A writer writes. The joy of computers is that you can return to your copy at any time and improve on what you have written. But you can’t do that if, because of lack of self- confidence, you haven’t written anything . So write what you remember when it is vivid . The more you write the better you will get at it.
When I was interviewing the Stars artist Qu Leilei for the background to Brushstrokes in Time, I drove to Wimbledon from Oxford each month. At one time I felt a little annoyed. After my two hour journey, Leilei was starting again where he had begun the previous month. Then I had a Eureka moment. It wasn’t the same! It was as if by talking the previous month we had skimmed the cream off the milk allowing richer and deeper memories to rise .
I’d be interested to know if that happens to you. If once you start remembering things from your past and write about them does the detail of things you had forgotten suddenly come into your mind?
Do you recognise any of these castaways?